William Becker, The Climate Policy Expert's Blog
Climate Policy Expert
“Conference of Surprises”
09 Dec 09 | 508 comments
Most diplomatic affairs at the international level are carefully scripted and choreographed under the principle of “no surprises”.
That is not the case in Copenhagen at the international negotiations on global climate change. By only the third day in the two-week conference, there were several surprises and promises of more.
The first surprise came before COP-15 convened: The leak of e-mails from several climate scientists, widely circulated by climate skeptics and cited as evidence that experts were making up the numbers showing that climate change is an urgent and man-made problem. The e-mails, which proved nothing except that scientists are human, re-energized the skeptics and dominated the news media as delegates gathered in Copenhagen.
The second surprise also was a leak, this time of a document reportedly written by leaders in Denmark with the blessing of the United States and United Kingdom. (http://en.cop15.dk/news/view+news?newsid=2889)
The paper, one of several negotiating positions making the rounds in Copenhagen’s sprawling Bella Conference Center, proposes that greenhouse gas mitigation targets be established for many developing nations (they were excluded from these commitments under the Kyoto Protocol), that much of the authority for an international agreement be shifted from the United Nations to the World Bank, and that developed economies be allowed higher per capital carbon emissions than emerging economies.
The Guardian reported that COP-15 was in “disarray” after the paper was leaked and that delegates from many developing countries “reacted furiously”. Tuesday at the end of Day Two, representatives of emerging economies and members of a number of environmental groups marched through the Bella Center in protest. UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer pointed out that the paper was unofficial and for discussion purposes only, but the damage was done: it appeared as though some of the wealthy nations were plotting behind the backs of smaller nations, without consultation.
Meantime, small groups of representatives from smaller nations mixed among the thousands of delegates and observers in bright red uniforms reminiscent of the Olympics, carrying signs that read: “Pay your carbon debt”, a reference to demands from the smaller countries in the G-77 for a major transfer of money and knowledge from the industrialized to non-industrialized world.
In response to news earlier this week that the United States, Australia and several EU nations would propose $10 billion in annual assistance to developing countries, the leader of one of the nations on the receiving end of that aid protested that it wouldn’t be enough to “pay for the coffins” of the people who will die from the severe impacts of a degraded climate.
Then came the announcement from the White House on Monday that America’s environmental watchdog – the Environmental Protection Agency – had officially declared greenhouse gases to be a danger to public health and welfare. That finding triggers EPA’s authority to begin regulating six warming gases as it does several other air pollutants.
The announcement immediately raised speculation that Obama might have his own surprise when he visits Copenhagen next week – a declaration that his Administration intends to use its regulatory powers to cut U.S. emissions higher than Congress so far has agreed.
During a presentation at the U.S. Center in the conference hall on Tuesday afternoon, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was asked three times whether such a surprise was in the works. Three times, she avoided giving a clear answer.
Also on Tuesday, a group of Republican congressmen from the United States announced their plan to travel to Copenhagen next week to undercut President Obama’s commitment that the United States will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent by 2020, a modest goal that mirrors the target narrowly approved by the House of Representatives earlier this year. (http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20091208/sc_afp/unclimatewarminguspolitics)
One of the traveling congressmen, Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, warned that Obama should not repeat the “mistake” former Vice President Al Gore made when he collaborated with other countries on the Kyoto Protocol, only to fail to achieve ratification by the U.S. Senate.
As the first week of COP-15 reached its mid-point, rumors circulated that some G-77 delegates might walk out in protest over what they perceive to be weak pollution targets and paltry financial pledges from industrial nations.
The only thing that was clear is that COP-15 is far from scripted and choreographed, and very far from predictable. Stay tuned.